‘Why has this book found such interest worldwide? The answer is Cuba’s revolution itself’

February 26, 2018

Below are remarks by Mary-Alice Waters, Gustavo Chui and Harry Villegas (Pombo) at the Feb. 6 presentation during the Havana International Book Fair of Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution. They were joined on the platform by Armando Choy, Iraida Aguirrechu and Martín Koppel. All six are identified in the news article on page 5.

The talk by Waters is copyright © 2018 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. The translations of Chui’s and Villegas’ remarks are by the Militant.


‘A book for workers searching for an alternative to capitalism’


Thank you, Martín, for the introductions.

And a warm welcome to all of you here with us today, including Caridad Diego, president of the Cuba-China Friendship Association; the large delegation representing the leadership of the Casino Chung Wah and other associations of the Chinese Cuban community in Havana; and members of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution, including those who fought alongside Choy, Chui, and Sío Wong in the Rebel Army and other missions and responsibilities over the years.

It is good to be among so many friends we have known and worked with for well over a decade, including Pombo and Iraida, and so many new faces as well.

Of course, I want to address a special thank-you to Generals Chui and Choy.

It was 16 years ago that Iraida, Martín, and I sat down with Choy, Chui, and Gen. Sío Wong — who we all miss so greatly — in the office of Gen. Harry Villegas, then the executive secretary of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. That turned out to be the first of many interviews that, four years later, had been transformed into this book.

To all of you I want to say it has been an honor — and a pleasure — to work with you, to come to know you, over these years.

And we’ve had fun, haven’t we?

We traveled the length and breadth of Cuba together to talk about the revolutionary course of the Cuban people that this book brings to life. Those were meetings in which hundreds participated — some 250 in Santiago de Cuba alone — and others in Matanzas, Santo Domingo, Fomento, Santa Clara, Guanajay, Ciego de Avila, Holguín, Bayamo, Quemado de Güines, and Corralillo.

Over the years, we’ve had meetings at nearly a dozen different places in Havana. The Havana International Book Fair in 2006. The Casa de Artes y Tradiciones Chinas [House of Chinese Arts and Traditions]. Multiple meetings in different municipalities with the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. Others on university campuses and high schools. And then Tarará in 2009, where more than 1,000 Chinese youth were studying at the time.

Martín and I learned a great deal from all of you in the course of those activities.

I want to focus my remarks today, however, on the impact the contents of this book — which is truly an introduction to the Cuban Revolution — has had outside Cuba. Not only in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other countries where English is the dominant language such as Australia and New Zealand, but quite literally around the world.

It is safe to say that no other book published by Pathfinder Press in recent years has had such broad international circulation.

Impact the world over

In addition to the editions in English and Spanish published in the U.S. in 2005 by Pathfinder, a Chinese edition was published in 2008, a Cuban edition by Editora Política in 2010 and a Farsi edition in Iran in 2014 by the publisher Talaye Porsoo. A French-language edition by Pathfinder will come off the presses later this year.

Altogether more than 15,000 copies have already been sold — not counting books sold in China! We know the first run of some thousands of the Chinese edition sold out and a second run was printed, but we never learned the total number.

Well over 100 presentations have taken place in cities and on university campuses around the world, in which more than 5,000 people participated. The truth is we stopped keeping track after 100 events!

These panel discussions, book fairs, academic conferences, and other special activities have taken place in some two dozen countries — including Venezuela, Panama, the People’s Republic of China (with presentations in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong), Singapore, Malaysia, Japan; youth festivals in South Africa, Ecuador, and Russia; Cuba solidarity events and book fairs in Egypt, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Namibia, Equatorial Guinea, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti.

And I’m sure I’ve left some out!

One of the largest meetings of all — some 300 — took place in Vancouver, Canada, where more than a quarter of the population in the city proper is Chinese. There were multiple meetings in Toronto, whose Chinese population is over 1 million, and then in 2010 Choy joined us for a very successful tour in the French-speaking city of Montreal.

In the U.S. alone, where unfortunately the authors were prevented by Washington from joining us, meetings took place in more than 27 cities and on an equal number of university campuses, from one corner of the country to another.

Iran, Afghanistan, Kurdistan

I want to make a special mention of the Farsi-language translation of the book. Today it is sold not only at book fairs and in bookstores in more than 30 cities of Iran, but in other regions of the Middle East where the Persian language is read. The distribution spreads from parts of Iraq to Afghanistan, where Farsi — or Dari as it is known there — is the most widely spoken language in the country. There is a large bookstore in the center of Kabul itself where you can buy this book!

To give you some idea of the importance of getting books like this into Afghanistan, a publisher there in recent years has sold more than 1,000 copies of another Pathfinder title in Farsi translation, How Far We Slaves Have Come! It includes the speeches by Nelson Mandela and Fidel Castro in Matanzas, Cuba, on July 26, 1991, at the time that Mandela came to thank the Cuban people for their unparalleled contribution to the liberation of southern Africa from the yoke of apartheid.

It will come as no surprise to those of you here that just three days ago, an article appeared in the New York Times, one of the major voices of the U.S. imperialist rulers, expressing amazement that there are so many Afghanis who love to read! It’s the same contemptuous ignorance the U.S. ruling families have about working people in Cuba — and in the U.S.

Our History Is Still Being Written was also distributed last year at the international book fair in Erbil, in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, a few kilometers from what were then the front lines of battle in Mosul. And it is today on the shelves of the largest bookshop in Sulaymaniyah in eastern Kurdistan.

I don’t need to explain to this audience how important it is that the true history and example of the men and women who made Cuba’s socialist revolution — and who have defended it for 60 years — is known in those war-torn parts of the world, where the imperialist powers and their capitalist collaborators in the region have wreaked such devastation and misery on working people.

Why such interest?

How can we explain such broad interest in a book about the lives of three Chinese Cuban generals?

Above all, the explanation is the Cuban Revolution itself.

But to that we have to add something that is often not seen or understood clearly. A broad political awakening has begun among working people everywhere whose lives have been shattered by the economic and social devastation, by the cumulative consequences, of capitalism’s deepening international crisis. And this includes the United States.

Working people are searching for answers and alternatives to a world order they don’t yet fully understand. A world of perpetual wars and deepening exploitation. Of racism and other forms of discrimination and oppression used by the capitalist owners to divide and weaken us. Of the pervasive and unstoppable destruction of land and labor — the source of all wealth — by the domination of the market and blind workings of the law of value.

That is the source of the interest in a book like Our History Is Still Being Written and why it is needed by those on the front lines of the class struggle, wherever they may be.

The example of the Cuban Revolution is not only a moral one, as important as that is. It is our only living example of the revolutionary morality of the working class on the road to its emancipation — of the political centrality of those working-class values and outlook.

Cuba’s socialist revolution stands as the practical lesson for our class of how to fight and, most importantly, of the only course that can win against the immense power and brutality of our class enemy.

Foreword by Chinese translator

I want to end with a few words about the excellent foreword that appears in Spanish and English for the first time in this new edition of the book. It was written in 2008 as an afterword to the Chinese edition of the book by its translator, Wang Lusha. And it captures in a powerful way what we are talking about today.

First a word about the translation and how it came to be. We’ve never had the pleasure to meet the translator. He works in the Chinese TV and film industry, where he wrote the script for a 28-part TV series on the Chinese in Cuba.

When the first edition of the book came off the press at the beginning of 2006, a Chinese TV crew had been working in Cuba preparing the multipart TV series. Sío Wong asked the director if he could help get the book translated and published in China. “Yes,” gladly, the director said, and two years later the book appeared.

In his foreword Wang Lusha explains that he first encountered the name Moisés Sío Wong while surfing the internet. He was studying abroad at the time, first in the Netherlands, and then in New Zealand. In both countries he had encountered firsthand the anti-Chinese discrimination and prejudice he had never known before, of which he gives numerous examples. It made him doubt his own capacities, he writes — his own worth as a human being.

But “one man changed my way of thinking.” And “that man was General Moisés Sío Wong.”

When Wang Lusha read on the internet that in Cuba someone of Chinese descent was a general of the armed forces, an aide to Raúl Castro, a deputy to the National Assembly, he thought it must be what today is called “fake news.” His experiences abroad had taught him it simply wasn’t possible that someone who was Chinese could be so respected and hold such high responsibilities outside China!

Then “by pure coincidence,” he says, a friend in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he was studying, gave him a copy of Our History Is Still Being Written.

Of course it wasn’t “by pure coincidence.” Communists in New Zealand, supporters of Pathfinder, had a book center there and were selling the newly published book as broadly as possible at workplaces, universities, and political events. The author of the foreword writes:

I felt overwhelmed as I read through the pages of the book. I discovered that, in addition to General Sío Wong, there are many other Chinese who made remarkable contributions in Cuba. … These included José Wong, José Bu, José Tolón, Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and many more. …

So I asked myself, what happened in Cuba that gave Chinese the status and positions they enjoy today, something they are denied in other countries?

And Wang Lusha answers his own question by citing the response given by Sío Wong in the pages of this book.

The difference between the experience of the Chinese in Cuba and those in other countries of the diaspora, says Sío Wong, is that

Here a socialist revolution took place. The revolution uprooted discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin. That’s because, above all, we overturned the property relations that create not only economic but also social inequality between rich and poor.

That’s what made it possible for the son of Chinese immigrants to become a government representative, or anything else.

Uniqueness of Cuba

Around the world those who have come to know the truth through the words of Chui, Choy, and Sío Wong are stunned by that reality. Cuba is the only country in the world where large numbers of Chinese settled yet today there is no discrimination against them. There is no “glass ceiling” and no ghetto here. No occupation or level of responsibility from which Cubans of Chinese ancestry are excluded, or to which they are relegated.

As all of you are well aware, the president of the National Assembly of Peoples Power, Esteban Lazo, is a Cuban of Chinese and African descent.

Like Wang Lusha, on learning the truth, many begin asking, “Why is this so?” As Choy, Chui, and Sío Wong explain, the reason Cuba is different is that here an immense popular struggle took place that transformed millions of men and women, like many of you in this room today, young and old, as you fought and continue fighting to lay the foundations of a new economic, social, and moral order.

And that is why your example, and books that carry that truth, are so necessary in the world today.

As Choy says in the words that conclude this book, “Yes, a better world is possible. But only with a socialist revolution.”


‘We learned to be revolutionaries as fighters in the Rebel Army’

The book whose second edition we are presenting today is more than a history of three Chinese Cubans in the Cuban Revolution. It’s a tribute to the contribution of Chinese immigrants who, since their arrival in Cuba in the 19th century, struggled tenaciously to settle in our country, to become part of its people, to identify with and fight for the same ideals as all Cubans — ever since the war of independence from Spain, the U.S.-dominated republic, the revolutionary war in the Sierra Maestra, and later after the triumph of the revolution.

That’s why we say our history is still being written. From the contributions of our ancestors in the 1800s down to this time, Chinese Cubans have been an integral part of each and every stage of Cuban history. We continue to contribute today.

When we began the interviews for this book, we really had no idea the impact it would have. One interview, that’s it, we thought. But after the first interview, they kept asking question after question, as the chair said. The next year came, and there were yet more questions. “Good Lord!” I said. “We’re never going to be done.”

When we began work on the book, we were thinking it was just for us in Cuba. Later we came to realize it was really a book for people around the world. It led to a deeper knowledge of our revolution in countries where it circulated in various languages.

The three of us didn’t really know each other during the revolutionary war. By an accident of history, each of us came from a different area in Cuba. [Moíses] Sío Wong was from the west. He was born in San Pedro de Mayabón to a family of 12. When he was a child his parents moved to Havana. And that’s where he became active as a revolutionary.

My dear compañero [Armando] Choy is from Fomento. He was born there but moved at an early age to Santa Clara, where his father had a small business.

Me, I’m from Santiago de Cuba and grew up like most other Chinese kids there. We weren’t the poorest of the poor, we weren’t starving, but we did experience the objective reality of what the country was going through in those days.

What did we know at the time we joined the struggle? Were we Marxists? Were we revolutionaries? No. In reality we were illiterate — culturally, politically and ideologically.

I first learned about Fidel at the time of the attack on the Moncada barracks. One day, very early in the morning, we heard gunshots. The carnival was going on in Santiago de Cuba, and we thought the shots were fireworks. That’s the soldiers having fun with some fireworks, we said.

After a while we began to see jeeps loaded with soldiers wearing helmets — that’s strange, we thought. A little later word spread there was shooting going on at the Moncada barracks. We thought the soldiers were fighting among themselves. Later we learned that Fidel had attacked Moncada. But we didn’t know who he was.

That was the beginning of our revolutionary education. We saw how viciously the soldiers mistreated us and murdered compañeros at that time. There were some compañeros who lived in my neighborhood. And then I joined and became involved as a revolutionary.

We went up to the Sierra Maestra mountains. We began to become revolutionaries when we joined the struggle there.

It was Fidel who taught us to be revolutionaries. Along with Raúl [Castro] and all our leaders, like [Juan] Almeida, and Guillermo [García], who was my immediate superior. But at first we weren’t yet revolutionaries. We were learning.

Today, we have deeply rooted political convictions, and we are defending the revolution at all costs against the U.S. empire.

The large number of Chinese who arrived in the 19th century — some 140,000 — played a decisive role in our society. There is a saying in Cuba: “Whoever doesn’t have some Congo in them has some Carabali” [two African peoples]. And I sometimes say to compañeros, “No — and some Chinese too.”

Because you can’t talk about our society if you don’t also talk about the Chinese. There were Cubans of Chinese descent who fought in the war of independence. The Chinese are an integral part of our society.

I didn’t know this book had reached so many countries. So much the better!


‘A vision of how to help others understand Cuba’s revolution’

I want to thank the compañeros of Pathfinder who invited me to be with you this afternoon, with the combatants here, with Choy and Chui. And there’s something that members of the leadership of the Association of Revolutionary Combatants cannot forget — at that time our organization was headed by Juan Almeida.1

Books like this represent precisely Almeida’s vision of the future. He put great emphasis on publishing some of the history of members of the association as a way to spread the truth about the revolution, in a popular way, to those outside Cuba.

Today, as we heard the results of getting this book out, we were astounded. It struck Chui the same way it did me. It’s immense — the list of places this book has gone as a voice of the Cuban Revolution, heard through the words of those who made it. The fact that it has reached so many young people around the world.

How Almeida’s hopes have been realized! They have been realized much more broadly than we thought.

I personally feel very happy to have lived and worked alongside Chui, Choy and Sío Wong.

Chui and I weren’t combatants together during the revolutionary war. We were comrades in the broad sense, because we were members of the Rebel Army. But we weren’t part of the same front.

With Sío Wong, I had a little closer connection. We were together in the mountains. We were part of Column 8, the invading column under Che’s leadership. And we were together in the entire Las Villas campaign.2

With Choy, after completing the invasion I had the privilege and opportunity of getting to know him during the Battle of Santa Clara. I don’t mean the city of Santa Clara alone, but the entire campaign in Las Villas province — all its municipalities — and the integration into Column 8 of the July 26th Movement members already there.

These three compañeros were later part of internationalist missions. In one place or another, we were all part of these missions.

I think this new edition of Our History Is Still Being Written is important because there are many young Cubans who aren’t familiar with these events, with how humble people, normal people — which is what we all were — made the revolution. Our revolution was made by the Cuban people.

Before the revolution, Chinese faced particular discrimination, as did blacks — it was even greater against blacks. When a people rebel, all those who are part of the people become involved. So you had Chinese, you had blacks, you had those whose ancestors came from Spain. Together they made the revolution.

And I think that this book, the story of the three generals, clearly leaves us with a saying that’s a household word for Cubans: “No Chinese Cuban was a traitor.”3

That’s what I meant when I said I’m proud to be with these three, and to have fought alongside them.

1. Juan Almeida (1927–2009) took part in the 1953 attack on the Moncada barracks and 1956 Granma expedition, turning points in the revolutionary struggle led by Fidel Castro. He was a Rebel Army commander and, after the 1959 victory, had central leadership responsibilities in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Council of State and Communist Party.

2. In August 1958 Ernesto Che Guevara led a column of 140 in a march from the Sierra Maestra mountains to Las Villas province, 370 miles west. As combatants under Fidel Castro defeated Batista’s troops in eastern Cuba, Guevara’s column captured the provincial capital, Santa Clara, Jan. 1, 1959, helping to seal the fate of the Batista dictatorship.

3. A monument in Havana is inscribed with the words of General Gonzalo de Quesada, a leader of the war of independence: “There was not a single Chinese deserter. There was not a single Chinese traitor.” That’s what I meant when I said I’m proud to be with these three, and to have fought alongside them.